LGBT parents—and any others who have ever struggled to explain reproduction to their young children in a way relevant to their families—will rejoice at the new picture book What Makes a Baby. In 32 vibrant pages, Toronto-based author Cory Silverberg explains how babies are made—in a way that works for all family structures, ways of family creation, and parents’ gender identity.
Silverberg, who self-identifies as queer and has worked as a certified sexuality educator for 20 years, explained in an interview, “When you focus on a particular representation, you’re always leaving people out. . . . Parents should be able to tell their kids stories in a way that centers their child’s experience.”
The book, aimed at children from four to seven years old, simply explains that some bodies have sperm, some have eggs, and that to make a baby, you need an egg, a sperm, and a place for the baby to grow—a uterus, which some bodies have and some don’t. It never refers to gender or any particular way of bringing sperm and egg together.
Because the book paints a broad picture, however, it “really needs the parent to fill in the blanks,” Silverberg said. “The process is not just buying the book or reading the book,” he explained, but also “putting our own families in there.”
To assist parents in doing that, he has also created a 60-page readers’s guide, available for free download at what-makes-a-baby.com. It offers detailed suggestions for how to use the book as a starting point for speaking with children and answering their questions about reproduction, difference, gender, race, bodies, and more.
Award-winning Toronto artist Fiona Smyth’s illustrations, in bold, solid colors, call to mind the vivid images of the well-known (and also gay) children’s illustrator Todd Parr, but have a whimsy and dynamism all their own. Many of the characters are gender-ambiguous. The bright purple, green, blue, yellow, and pink colors, even for skin tones, means the book works for all races and ethnicities, too.
Silverberg and Smyth tried to make the illustrations biologically accurate when needed (like the close-up uterus diagram)—but Silverberg wasn’t trying to write a science text. “It’s a kids’ book and it can be fantastical,” he said. “There are times to be concrete and times to be fun and silly.” The sperm and egg have smiling faces, for example. In another picture, we see images of the many “stories” they carry inside them about the bodies they are from. When the egg and sperm meet, they “swirl together in a special kind of dance” and share those stories.
Silverberg explained that he wrote that rather metaphorical passage, surprisingly, to correct a common scientific inaccuracy: that active sperm march towards a passive egg. “The egg actually emits chemicals that draw sperm to it,” he said—and he wanted to convey this more egalitarian method.
At the other end of the process, the book shows both a vaginal birth and a C-section, but does not assume that the person birthing the child will raise him or her. It speaks instead of the people anticipating the baby’s birth, and ends with the question, ”Who was waiting for you to be born?” Adoptive families will appreciate the space this leaves for them.
Silverberg initially wrote the book at the request of a transgender friend, who was expecting a second child with his female partner and whose four-year-old was starting to ask questions about baby making. His friend observed that existing children’s books on the subject all assumed parents were biologically related to their kids, which was not his situation. Silverberg took up the challenge. He had never written a book for children (his professional work is with adults), but as the son of a sex therapist and a children’s librarian, he brought a certain amount of ingrained knowledge to the table, along with experience in media production and marketing.
He field tested the book with “everyone who would let me,” he said, including families in his Toronto LGBTQ community, straight relatives, and particular types of families he sought out to make sure the book worked for them.
Silverberg had, however, seen far too many self-published books that were well-intentioned but of poor quality. He wanted a book that “looks as nice as a Maurice Sendak or Dr. Seuss.” A quality book tells the reader, “your experience is just as important as anyone else’s,” he said.
He therefore launched a campaign on Kickstarter, the Web-based system for funding creative projects, hoping to raise $9500 within the system’s 30-day timeframe. He raised it all the first day, and ended with over $65,000 pledged, making his the most-funded picture book on Kickstarter to date, he said. Why such success? “The real answer is parents,” he said. Word spread as they jumped in to support a book that filled a need.
Five publishers then approached him, and he chose Seven Stories Press in New York City. He was committed to releasing 1000 copies through Kickstarter first, but will be releasing an identical book through Seven Stories starting May 21 (with preorders available now through online booksellers). Silverberg plans What Makes a Baby to be the first of a series, with the next for children ages seven to ten, and the third for ten through puberty.
Together, What Makes a Baby and its thoughtful reader’s guide are a phenomenal and much- needed resource for all families today.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.